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Local academics and engineers part of groundbreaking fusion energy announcement

Livermore- NIF lab.jpg
Damien Jemison
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
A color-enhanced image of the inside of a preamplifier support structure at the National Ignition facility at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California.

Scientists announced on Tuesday that they have for the first time produced more energy in a fusion reaction than was used to ignite it.

And scientists and engineers from Rochester had a hand in the process.

The achievement announced this week by researchers at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California marks a major breakthrough in the decades-long quest to harness the process that powers the sun.

The U.S. Energy Secretary and other officials say that this breakthrough involving Livermore’s National Ignition Facility this week will pave the way for advancements in national defense and the future of clean power.

Christopher Deeney is Director of the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics, which has been working on this project for some time. He said there were indications some months ago that researchers would be able to hit this milestone.

“A year ago we started mapping out what we had to do differently because this was a major scientific result for the community, that told us that this particular approach to fusion, can be made to work,” said Deeney.

Deeney also noted that there has long been ties between the researchers in California and the University of Rochester Laboratory for Laser Energetics. “We continue to train many of the students that end up at Livermore; in fact, some of the scientists on this team, they did their research at the Omega laser at (the UR Laser Lab) as part of their PhD program.”

Ted Mooney is a precision optics manager at L3Harris Technologies in Rochester, which has also been working on the fusion project.

He said that L3Harris makes highly precise optical components required for this fusion program.

“And they’re at the center of the highest precision components that are in their whole laser system that go at the very end of the chain, right before it goes into the target chamber,” said Mooney. “So we’ve been working with the over the years and provide roughly around 80 to 100 of those optics per year.”

Mooney said the recent breakthrough is really the start of a process.

“How do you actually harness the energy that this is going to create? And then, looking ahead a decade or two, how do you stand up the industry to support this technology as a potential power source?, “asked Mooney.

Although it’s expected to take a number of years for the benefits of fusion to filter down to the energy market, both Mooney and Deeney said their staffs, including engineers and academics, are very excited by this week’s developments.

NPR and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

Randy Gorbman is WXXI's director of news and public affairs. Randy manages the day-to-day operations of WXXI News on radio, television, and online.